Bear Bangers

by Tony Daffern on April 19, 2009

Bear Banger and launcherHave you ever actually fired a bear banger? Neither had I until yesterday. It’s really very simple using the pen-type launcher that come with the popular launcher kits. Slip the firing pin knob out of the safety lock position, pull it back as far as possible and let go. There is a moderately loud bang as the banger is ejected from the cartridge, a trail of smoke, and a few seconds later a loud bang as the banger explodes. There is no kickback when the cartridge fires and the cartridge is only slightly warm allowing you to unscrew it and reload right away.  Although the pen launcher is a simple device and the cartridges appear innocuous, they are potentially dangerous and have the capacity to damage hearing and to cause burns if used improperly. So much for the mechanics. When and how do you use bangers in the event of a bear attack?

Before I get into the details let’s review the two types of noisemaking deterrents that are available: bangers and whistlers. Bangers (red cartridge) explode with a loud bang after travelling about 40 m. Whistlers (sometimes called screamers) come in a blue cartridge and project about 80 m. They produce a high-pitched screeching sound for 2-3 seconds until the end of flight. They are said to “… produce an unusual, alarming sound creating an immediate fear reaction in birds and animals.” They can be purchased in Calgary at Mountain Equipment Co-op, Russel Sports and Wholsale Sports.

So apart from scaring off a nuisance bear around camp, when should you use a bear banger? My experience with bears is that once they are aware of you they either take off, or ignore you and carry on feeding—in which case I take off. So it is unlikely you will use a banger unless the bear is showing signs of aggression and coming toward you. It makes sense to avoid having the banger go off behind the bear as it may drive it toward you. If you fire almost vertically up in the air the banger may technically go off between you and the bear, but so high above the bear that it may run toward you anyway. My inclination would be to aim the pen launcher a little to one side of the bear with a low trajectory so that it goes off fairly close to the bear. If using a whistle, which starts making a noise as soon as it leaves the launcher, I would aim it the same way, but with a higher trajectory. So much for theory. Has anyone used bangers or whistlers in an actual bear encounter?

The best way to deal with bears is to avoid a bear encounter in the first place. Keep you head up, your eyes open and your senses alert when in the backcountry.

True Flare Pen Launcher Kit with Bangers and Whistlers

True Flare Pen Launcher Kit with Bangers and Whistlers

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Mr T July 20, 2014 at 2:01 pm

We were at Rawson Lake yesterday (July 19) fishing on the south shore. A man a woman came rushing out from the trees saying there is a grizzly coming. We gathered as a group well away from his approach. We were in the open, no doubt we were obvious. The bear continued in our direction. We began yelling at it, but it was clear he was proceeding regardless. My fishing bud pulled out one of his bear bangers and fired it. It was perfect placement. The bear quickly turned and retreated 20 feet, stopped, starred at us briefly and walked away.
I had never seen a banger in action before, I only carry bear spray. I will be arming myself with bangers on my next trip to wholesale sports.

Thomas August 22, 2013 at 8:53 pm

We actually used a bearbanger to ‘safe’ a couple who was trying to outrun a mom with a cub. We stopped them and once we saw the bear coming closer to us we did not want to take any chances and fired off the banger as it looked the bear thought it was prey. I was not too familiar with the banger and fired it towards the bear and luckily it exploded over the bear’s head and scared him away. We also carried bear spray but we did not want to take any chances as you don’t want to mess with a mom that is looking for prey! I hope I do not have to use it but if so I would be firing it in the air for sure

Brent P June 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

Sad story about the teenager killed by a bear banger, but PG was correct, it had been modified. In fact, it wasn’t a bear banger at all. The pen launcher had been fitted with a 22 cal bullet and turned into an illegal firearm.

Gerswin Hakalakavitch February 25, 2013 at 11:54 pm

I have been in a situation in Africa where a guide had to fire one of these. We were walking through a small section of bush trying to be un-noticed by the wildlife (elephants) when we suddenly were approached by a mother and her baby. The guide quickly shot the “bang banger” towards the elephants but accidentally hit a tree and the projectile happened to come back towards us but exploded about mid way. None the less the elephants all quickly turned around and ran, very quickly, in the opposite direction. Awesome device with amazing results!!

Joy November 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm

try an airhorn to scare bears away….it’s instant and very loud!

Kirsten Phillips February 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Just wondering if anyone has attempted to use a strobe flashlight to deter a bear.

higgy September 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Bear bangers are are great item to carry and use to hopefully scare a bear into staying a safe distance, however I recently found out while visiting Waterton that bear bangers are illegal in National Parks so although it may still be a good item to carry don’t get caught using them unless they are you last defense as ther could be a fine involved.

PyroTeknik July 22, 2011 at 9:39 pm

CJ, It wasn’t me firing test rounds near Harrison Lake, but it’s unfortunate people were disturbed by such actions. Are you sure they were not simple class C fireworks? Some people enjoy fireworks while camping. Bear bangers, even at close range, should not cause hearing problems.. unless it malfunctions and explodes near your ear. Here on Vancouver Island, the main problem is shotguns while camping.. always makes me nervous wondering if a stray shot will make it our way!

PyroTeknik July 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Interesting comment, James.. I hope this experience is rare. I have used bear bangers (in testing) frequently in remote areas, and found them to fire 100% reliably so far. They are perhaps safer than legal class C (Canada) fireworks and don’t have a dangerous fuse. There is no burning debris or fallout from what I have experienced, meaning no forest fire risk. Hold the firing pen well overhead, and I fail to see a problem with how it works. It’s a safety device, and works well assuming no modifications have been done to the pen or shell.

James July 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm

I just found out my friend was showing his wife how to use the bear banger, and in the process instead of firing up in the air it stayed in the pen and he has suffered serious burns, has anyone heard of other incidents of this?

PG June 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm

RE: mark kennedy September 30, 2009

FYI – in the end the item used to cause the unfortunate death was not a bear banger that you get from MEC. It was modified with a projectile. The person that fired it was in court May 2011 and there are web articles.

CJ May 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm

As a camper, we experienced irresponsible launching of bearbangers for fun at a managed campsite near Harisson Lake BC. Not only did it frighten children, the bangers caused temporary hearing loss and ear pain for some people. These things are as loud as 12 gauge shotgun fire. They should be used only for their intended use and not as noisemakers or firecrackers.

Pat January 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

has anyone used these with nuisance coyotes? thinking this may be an option.. do you need a PAL to purchase?

Shannon November 15, 2010 at 11:01 am

Shot off a bear banger…next day got a ticket from the warden for disturbing “other campers” 1-2km away. Be careful. I think the warden I got was a REAL dickhead……

John Fraser October 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I recently fired a banger in the field to assess the range and get familiar with the results, it fired fine but produced no bang.
I fired a second one and it performed perfectly.
In view of the first experience I would prefer to rely on a 30.06 banger because if the bear is a real threat it would not likely give one a second chance.
Obviously it is better to avioid close encounters with bears.

Shaen January 25, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I have had to use these types many times and from my experence always point them up, they are very effective and as for aiming them towards the bear they all have slightly different distances that thet fly to so it is impossible to gauge the right trajectory. And if you miss and pass the bear the situation can change into a deadly confrontation with the bear. Another reason is that if fired on a low path it can start a forest fire. Please take this advice and have a great time exploring the wilderness.

mark kennedy September 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I just lost my grandson to a bear banger my grandson was from rockymoutain house alberta you might of herd of the accident .I did not see any where that the bear banger can case death if fired at a person .My grandson would have turned 16 on the 5 of november some kid his friend picked it up and didn’t no what it was shot it off and hit my grandson now we have lost our little angel I just thought that you should put a warning that bear bangers can kill as well thank you for your time .Mark kennedy

Rick May 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

I’ve used bangers and screamers several times over the past 10-15 years. They are quite effective, and certainly to be preferred to spray (which I have never had to use, except on nasty dawgs when I’m cycling); I’m not even sure it would work on a truly aggressive griz.

It’s certainly true that one should avoid bears and bear encounters as best one can and thus avoid using the banger/screamer — making loud noises, whistles (if they don’t sound like birds), and (in my case) singing are all good alternatives. But they do not eliminate all encounters, especially around streams or when the wind is blowing.

It’s true that one should have some control over trajectory when firing a banger/screamer, although most of the time you will be in something of a hurry — and perhaps with slightly shaky hands; in such instances, the fine points of aiming won’t exactly be paramount in your thinking. But that’s not a really big deal: what the banger/screamer does is get the bear’s attention and indicate that you are not as helpless as you might at first appear. Most of the bears I have scared this way look around after hearing the report, size up the situation, and then amble (rarely do they run) off in a direction opposite to me. Fortunately. Some are merely amused enough to leave the area, others are clearly somewhat frightened; in either case, the avoidance behaviour for human contact is a good thing all around.

However, even though I have never had a bear charge after hearing a banger/screamer, I am — just in case — already busy screwing another cartridge onto the banger and unlimbering my spray. Not to mention sizing up nearby trees for low-hanging limbs.

I should note that most of these encounters have been solo adventures; a larger group likely would not have serious problems with a bear. There was one trip where a group of three of us, in a completely uncoordinated fashion, fired off a salvo of three bangers. That poor Rocky Mountain griz is likely now catching salmon on the coast.

Hope this helps.

Matt April 24, 2009 at 5:31 am

What i was told at MEC was to fire bangers straight up, so you dont risk driving the bear back towards you. They are easily loud enough to startle and chase off a bear even at range.

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